I was standing on my patio last week when something zoomed past me like a tiny jet aircraft. It was the first hummingbird of the season!
Here in the southeastrern United States we usually see the ruby throated hummingbird. I am fascinated by these little birds which, if they were the same size as a hawk, would be the tyrannosaurus rex of the bird world. I enjoy watching their aerial acrobatics and combat maneuvers as they aggressively defend their favorite flowers or hummingbird feeders. With the ability to fly over thirty-four miles per hour and with an average wing beat of over fifty times per second, hummers are also the only birds that can fly backwards.
They usually pass through my garden later in the summer during their migration to northern Mexico or Central America, but I am hoping that my yard has finally attracted some nesting hummingbirds. The female builds her thimble sized nest on a tree branch and often uses spider silk to bind it together. This allows the nest to stretch a bit as the baby birds grow. By the way, the male doesn't help with parenting at all. Once his part in the fertilization is accomplished, he is off to find more females!
Young birds feed on small insects and spiders, which provide protein for growth. They fatten up on sugar nectar before migration, visiting hundreds of flowers and consuming up to five times their body weight of the sweet stuff daily. This makes me realize how paltry are the few flowers I have. I need to plant more flowers for the hummingbirds!
Hummingbirds love red flowers, but they are drawn to other colors, also. One day last summer I was in my garden, wearing a bright blue shirt with orange and purple blossoms printed across it, when a hummer buzzed me. At first I thought he was attacking me as he dived toward my shoulder several times. Then I realized he thought I was a flower! Attractive flowers are rich in nectar and often have tubular shapes that perfectly accomodate the hummingbird's long, slender beak. The eager bird quickly realized I had neither.
Here are some of the flowers I have planted for hummingbirds:
All of the above flowers are just beginning to bloom and will grow and soon become lush. I also have butterfly bush, monarda didyma, and hibiscus which will bloom as the season progresses. Hummers also like the honeysuckle and trumpet vines that grow wild amidst some of my shrubs. Hummingbird feeders help, too. I make a solution of one part white granulated sugar to four parts water. I microwave it for at least six minutes and allow it to cool before filling the feeders. I never use commercial products containing food colors or additives, and I clean the feeders regularly to help prevent the spread of disease.
I will see more hummers in my garden by July, and the last stragglers will pass through in November. They will fly five hundred miles, non-stop on their southern migration across the Gulf of Mexico. They travel during hurricane season, and I always say a little prayer for them. Hummingbirds live up to a decade and will often visit the same feeders each year. I admire these feisty little birds, and I hope my yard will soon be on their list of favored places.